It’s been years since I flew a full-price airline anywhere in Europe. This is partly because i live only about fifteen miles from Stansted, Ryanair’s hub airport; partly because the cheap airlines are so very much cheaper if they are booked in advance. But to Munich I flew British Airways from Heathrow, and suddenly remembered how pleasant air travel used to be.
Some of the difference was in the air. The seats are wide and comfortable in club class; the wine is free and pretty good. Starting from Row 3, you get off the aeroplane quickly. But the real value for money came on the ground. There were no queues anywhere. The new automatic ticket machines print out a boarding pass (and even offer a choice of seats) as soon as you shove in a credit card. Then there was one other person ahead of me in the line to be searched at Heathrow. It’s true that she walked off with my boarding pass, but she did return it quickly.
I can’t remember the last time I flew out of England so easily. In the last five or six years I have only flown to Israel and the USA outside of Europe, and foreigners have to budget at least three hours’ queueing time onto every journey to either of those destinations. El Al want you to turn up four hours before the flight leaves.
Not queueing makes an immense difference to the pleasure of flying. Given a reasonable seat pitch, I don’t really care when the meals come or what they taste like (an exception there for Air France, who serve decent food and wine even in steerage). It would be worth a reasonable premium over Ryanair prices. What’s hateful is spending hours shuffling in a dispirited crowd towards some robotic or humiliating interaction at a desk.
But the cream of the joke is that for this trip BA wasn’t even more expensive. The only competitor among cheap airlines was EasyJet, and by the time I needed to buy a single steerage ticket from Munich, the EasyJet price was more than BA’s — and, actually, more than half a business class BA return ticket bought a month in advance.